, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 46–59 | Cite as

Relating Mindfully: A Qualitative Exploration of Changes in Relationships Through Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

  • Joanne L. N. BihariEmail author
  • Eugene G. Mullan


Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) was developed to reduce the risk of relapse for people suffering with chronic depression. The change processes identified to date focus on the individual level, e.g. “de-centering” or identifying less with thoughts. However, substantial research indicates that interpersonal processes play a major role in chronic depression and suggest that mindfulness practice is associated with more fulfilling interpersonal relationships. This study analyzed participants' experiences of MBCT and their relationships with others in-depth, through the use of qualitative methodology, specifically theoretical sampling of participants' interview data using grounded theory. The core construct that emerged from participants' accounts was “relating mindfully”. Findings show the interconnectedness of individual and interpersonal changes through MBCT, and are summarized in diagrammatic form. Participants described “relating mindfully” to their own experiences with consequential profound changes in their relationships with others. Specifically, participants were more aware of their tendency to react automatically to internal and external triggers (distressing interpersonal situations). This awareness allowed them space to mindfully respond to others rather than react in habitual (and often painful) ways. Relationships were enriched through profound and varied changes: Some participants were more able to “be with” others in distress rather than jumping to “fix” or avoid them. At other times, they were more able to enjoy and appreciate being with others due to their increased tendency to live in the present moment. Participants described improvements in communication, such as increased empathy and ability to see others' perspectives, arguments being more constructive as opposed to just frustrated, habitual rowing. These findings suggest the need for an expanded conceptualization of mindfulness, which acknowledges and encompasses these important relational change processes in addition to the individual psychological changes.


Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy MBCT Mindfulness Relationships Interpersonal Qualitative 



The authors thank all the participants, and to Alison Evans, MBCT instructor and field collaborator, for their insight, kindness and generosity.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Clinical PsychologyUniversity of ExeterExeterUK

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